Why Do the Saudi’s Need Nukes?

February 23, 2019


According to a congressional report, a group that includes former senior U.S. government officials is lobbying to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. As an expert focusing on the Middle East and the spread of nuclear weapons, I believe these efforts raise important legal, economic and strategic concerns.

It is understandable that the Trump administration might want to support the U.S. nuclear industry, which is shrinking at home. However, the congressional report raised concerns that the group seeking to make the sale may have have sought to carry it out without going through the process required under U.S. law. Doing so could give Saudi Arabia U.S. nuclear technology without appropriate guarantees that it would not be used for nuclear weapons in the future.

A competitive global market

Exporting nuclear technology is lucrative, and many U.S. policymakers have long believedthat it promotes U.S. foreign policy interests. However, the international market is shrinking, and competition between suppliers is stiff.

Private U.S. nuclear companies have trouble competing against state-supported international suppliers in Russia and China. These companies offer complete construction and operation packages with attractive financing options. Russia, for example, is willing to accept spent fuel from the reactor it supplies, relieving host countries of the need to manage nuclear waste. And China can offer lower construction costs.

Saudi Arabia declared in 2011 that it planned to spend over US$80 billion to construct 16 reactors, and U.S. companies want to provide them. Many U.S. officials see the decadeslong relationships involved in a nuclear sale as an opportunity to influence Riyadh’s nuclear future and preserve U.S. influence in the Saudi kingdom.

Of the 56 new reactors under construction worldwide, 39 are in Asia.

Why does Saudi Arabia want nuclear power?

With the world’s second-largest known petroleum reserves, abundant untapped supplies of natural gas and high potential for solar energy, why is Saudi Arabia shopping for nuclear power? Some of its motives are benign, but others are worrisome.

First, nuclear energy would allow the Saudis to increase their fossil fuel exports. About one-third of the kingdom’s daily oil production is consumed domestically at subsidized prices; substituting nuclear energy domestically would free up this petroleum for export at market prices.

Saudi Arabia is also the largest producer of desalinated water in the world. Ninety percent of its drinking water is desalinated, a process that burns approximately 15 percent of the 9.8 million barrels of oil it produces daily. Nuclear power could meet some of this demand.

Saudi leaders have also expressed clear interest in establishing parity with Iran’s nuclear program. In a March 2018 interview, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned, “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

As a member in good standing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Saudi Arabia has pledged not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and is entitled to engage in peaceful nuclear trade. Such commerce could include acquiring technology to enrich uranium or separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. These systems can be used both to produce fuel for civilian nuclear reactors and to make key materials for nuclear weapons.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior White House officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia despite the objections of ethics and national security officials, according to a new congressional report citing whistleblowers within the Trump administration.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the U.S. technology were transferred without proper safeguards.

The Democratic-led House oversight committee opened an investigation Tuesday into the claims by several unnamed whistleblowers who said they witnessed “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the Middle Eastern kingdom.

The report raises concerns about whether some in a White House marked by “chaos, dysfunction and backbiting” sought to circumvent national security procedures to push a Saudi deal that could financially benefit close supporters of the president.

The report comes at a time when lawmakers are increasingly uneasy with the close relationship between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia, which has raised alarms even among members of the president’s party in Congress. President Donald Trump has made the kingdom a centerpiece of his foreign policy in the Middle East as he tries to further isolate Iran. In the process, he has brushed off criticism over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudis’ role in the war in Yemen.



9 Responses to “Why Do the Saudi’s Need Nukes?”

  1. One reason Saudi’s want nuclear power plants is because of Iran. This country is seen as a rival even an enemy. Iran had and probalbly still have ambition to rebuild the former Persian kingdom from the Indus to the Meditarainian. The saudi’s have their own ambition in the Middle East. Ther USA only wants oil and arm sales.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    Just because Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific funders of Jihadi terrorism and is run by oligarch theocrats who are happy to murder journalists and lie about it, and deliberately keep their populace poor and uneducated is no reason to not give them nuclear bombs.

    If you disagree with this, you are just a worrywart who hates brown men who wear dresses.

    • Terry Donte Says:

      They want nuclear reactors, not nuclear bombs, but heck why be accurate.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        R-i-g-h-t. Sure they do.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        I think they want both. However, the fact that they can pretty much get the cheapest solar power in the world makes me wonder if they think they need more power for a grid that will have to air condition against some of the hottest year-round temperatures on the planet.

  3. Terry Donte Says:

    The oil will run out. If the world actually shifts to a lot of renewable energy sources for cars and truck, the money will run out. The Saudi government is simply looking ahead. If the USA refuses to sell nukes you have Britain, France, Russia, China, Pakistan and India who all know how to build nuclear reactors and have experience in both building them and running them. What we actually have is the Zionists want to be the only nuclear power in the region so oppose any other nation in the region getting nuclear power. Since they are essentially in a state of war even if not shooting with most of the countnes in the region, their attitude does make sense.

  4. Ann Rogers Says:

    Really scared stuff! I am reading “Doomsday Machine”, really apropos for today….. Ann

    Sent from my iPad


  5. Greg Wellman Says:

    It is easier to make reactors that make bomb material than it is to make reactors that make economically useful electrical power.

    Saudi Arabia saying it wants nuclear power to run desalination plants when it would be far cheaper to run them on the insanely abundant solar power available in that low-latitude desert country … clearly has an ulterior motive.

  6. Sir Charles Says:

    Trump’s cronies are in secret talks to sell nuclear tech to Saudi. The risks are clear

    The congressional report on this multibillion-dollar scheme provides further evidence of attempts to monetise the Trump presidency

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